Posthumous profits on musical prophets?

By in Opinions

I can’t recall if there was ever a time where we actually let celebrities pass away with dignity, or at least privacy, but “Falling Down,” the recent posthumous single from Lil Peep and XXXTentacion seems particularly disrespectful.

The track was released on Sept. 19, 2018 and is billed as a collaboration between the two recently deceased rappers. The finished project functions more as a Frankensteinian mash-up with rapper and producer iLoveMakonnen failing to stitch the component parts — provided, posthumously by X and Peep — into something coherent.

Lil Peep was a cult hero who mixed trap drums and pop-punk shout-alongs to create anthems about being sad in the club. His death, on Nov. 15, 2017, was caused by an overdose of the opioid fentanyl.

XXXTentacion, on the other hand, established himself as a controversial figure from the outset, dogged by charges detailing horrific domestic abuse. He created hip-hop that sounded dangerous, despite its melodic nature, and achieved major success with his album ? He was shot and killed on June 18, 2018.

It’s not surprising that the record industry would immediately scramble to cobble together some kind of release in the wake of the deaths of these two young artists. Both artists died shortly after releasing successful debuts and had overlapping fan bases. Despite the idea for the track being tasteless, the current media-consumption market practically necessitated its existence.

“Falling Down” is a bad song, but it’s not unique in that regard. Hip-hop artists often release half-baked collaborations for easy hits. What makes “Falling Down” particularly egregious is the well-documented distaste that Peep had for X, which only solidified as X’s reputation worsened.

Makonnen has remained adamant that the track was intended as a tribute to both artists and that it wasn’t his choice to release the song, but rather, it was a joint decision by the mothers of the deceased rappers.

Despite Makonnen’s claims, it’s hard to imagine this collaboration happening if either party were alive to consent to it. This isn’t just speculation on my part either — Peep’s family and friends have stepped in to decry the track.

Lil Peep’s mother, Lisa Womack, claims that the track was Makonnen’s decision alone while collaborator Fish Narc alleges that Peep had no prior knowledge of the X verses that made it into the finished track.

These statements are pretty damning to Makonnen’s narrative, but since neither Peep’s collaborators in the hip-hop collective GothBoiClique nor his family members own the rights to his music, their objections don’t have much of an impact. Columbia Records owns Peep’s unreleased catalogue and can legally do as they please with his unfinished material.

“Falling Down” is part of a larger cultural trend that I’ve noticed. The demand for entertainment has reached a point where we are no longer willing to let our favourite artists die.

After a celebrity death, we no longer grieve. Instead, we immediately begin anticipating a posthumous album, a CGI cameo in a summer blockbuster or a documentary capturing some planned career peak or troubled comeback. It signals a shift away from artistic output and toward the all-consuming algorithm of content production.

“Falling Down” is nothing but the product of a simple calculation of potential profits — it’s a cynical attempt to cash in on the deaths of two young artists. It’s also a calculated move to rehabilitate the image of a known abuser, which simultaneously devalues the hard stances both rappers took against each other.

It’s a weird addendum to both artists’ careers — forcing them to collaborate in death — but I’m sure that we haven’t heard the last from either of them. They both have so much more to offer — live shows, entire unfinished albums and tinny samples playing in the background of Instagram livestreams. Did you really think we’d just let them die like that?

Cole Chretien / Culture Editor

Graphic: Jaymie Stachyruk / Graphics Editor